[This article appeared in the April 1970 issue of
Popular Mechanics magazine.]
By Michael Lamm, West Coast Auto Editor
She's a cutie, no doubt about that - cleverly styled, a touch of the future. She goes pretty well, too, considering the Gremlin's size and price class. With 128 bhp standard and 145 optional, American Motors' new subcompact has the acceleration and passing reserve to dust off most economy imports.
AMC's Hornet and Gremlin offer identical engines and running gear, the base Hornet weighing about 200 pounds more than the Gremmy. This weight accounts in part for a slight acceleration difference in favor of the Gremlin. But to compensate, the Hornet comes in V8 versions. Not so the Gremlin; it's offered only with the 199 and 232-cu.-in. Sixes. Yet there's no reason why the 304 V8 (or even the 360/390 V8s, because block dimensions are the same) can't be an option. It'll drop right in.
The Hornet and the Gremlin share everything forward of the door latches: bumpers, front-end sheet metal, all unit-body components, windshield, dashboard, doors, even suspension, steering and brakes. Among minor differences, the Gremlin has a hood bulge and oblong parking lights. The only major difference between a two-door Hornet and the Gremlin is the body section behind the front doors. This leaves the Gremmy's wheelbase a foot shorter (96 inches instead of 108), with 1.5 feet less overall length. The only running-gear component difference between the two cars is the driveshaft.
While go-power puts the Gremlin above most economy imports, its cornering power rates so-so and braking leaves quite a lot to be desired. The Gremmy's rear end feels awfully light. AMC spokesmen give weight distribution as 57/43, but that's the Hornet's ratio, so I'd say the Gremlin must be nearer 60/40, because both cars' front-end weights are the same while the Gremlin's rear is much lighter.
Pouring around sharp, graveled turns brings the Gremlin's rear end out with fair ease. There's an optional heavy-duty suspension package available that might help here. And one powerful argument for ordering power steering: six wheel turns lock to lock with manual, three with power. The car's general ride, though, lacks the usual chop and rock and roll - it's steady and smooth, little affected by crosswinds.
Hard braking from 60-80 mph takes restraint, because if you cram down the pedal, weight shifts forward and the rear wheels lock up right quick. I made the mistake of trying my first panic stop from about 75 mph and immediately found the rear end trying to pass the front. Better brake-line proportioning would do wonders for this car. However, when I didn't lock wheels, my Gremlin stopped amazingly short - about 135 feet from 60 mph.
The Gremmy comes in either two or four-passenger form, the two being strictly utility. On the four-passenger, the rear window hinges upward and the rear seatback flattens to give a good-sized carpeted cargo deck. Then there's an optional roof rack for surfboards ("Gremmy," get it?) and extra carrying capacity. The entire rear area of the four-passenger Gremlin is neatly carpeted, and there's even a cover over the spare. The rear window opens with a simple, loackable twist release, and it's held up by two spring-loaded cylinders. In the two-passenger version, the rear window doesn't open.
Gremlin options run the gamut from air conditioning to rally stripes. And here's one subcompact with enough engine to handle a good load of power equipment - steering, brakes, automatic trans, and air - you can get it all.
Standard transmission in both versions and with both engines is a three-speed manual. With the 199 Six, you get column shift, but with the 232 it's a very handy floor stick. I would have liked synchro on low, but there's certainly no need for four speeds. In fact, the 232 takes off easily in second from a dead stop. Overdrive isn't offered and would be redundant anyway because of high rear-axle ratios (2.37 to 3.31). The engine loafs even at high road speeds. AMC claims fuel mileage in the 25-mpg range, and I don't doubt it.
The Gremlin's interior is just as cleverly and tastefully done as the outside. Two round dials with brushed aluminum faces house the gauges. Controls for heater, air conditioning, radio, plus lighter and ashtray stand in a central nacelle. Then there's a big glovebox at the right, with its lockable release knob at its left, so the driver can reach it easily. Both kick panels have fresh-air vents, and you can order a full-width under-dash shelf. This has outlets in the air conditioned models.
Nothing cheesy-looking about the upholstery or carpeting, either. The basic Gremlin interior comes in black or white vinyl, with blue, green, or red-pleated bench or bucket seats optional. Those buckets are great. The cockpit area has every bit as much room as any full-sized car, but the rear is a bit abbreviated. It's for kids or short hops. Pinched legroom, as usual.
Like the Maverick, the Gremlin prides itself on being easy to repair. Eleven screws hold the grille in place. Front fenders bolt on. There's plenty of room around the engine to get at plugs, carb, distributor, PCV, filters and accessories. Five screws attach the dash pod, and the main wiring harness has only one plug-in socket. Easy adjustments are built into clutch and parking-brake linkages, front-wheel bearings and headlights.
Gremlin prices weren't available at press time, but guesses hover around $1850 base. With average accessories, the car should run out at $2550 or so. It's a lot of automobile for those amounts, especially considering power, styling and durability. If this car catches on with the kids the way the VW did, look out VW!
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Last updated August 20, 2005